Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

It is a bit weird to subscribe emotional attachment to a political figure, I think. Cults of personality are odd at best and dangerous at worst. Politicians are people of tremendous power and wealth who are already three-quarters of the way colored by the system before they reach us in any form. But, darnit, if it isn’t love that I actually feel for my president at times.

Especially at times like this (from New Orleans, 2009):

Of course this clip has nothing to do with Obama’s policies and various compromises and he doesn’t address the specters of otherness and race or the repeated whispers of “birth certificate” and “secret Muslim.” What he does do is give a warm, affirming, and honest answer to a 4th grader –What he does do is be real and it turns out that real Barack Obama is totally lovable.


Likely the first and last thing that liberal intellectual Christopher Hitchens and conservative talk-radio host ManCow(?) agreed upon was the designation of the so-called enhanced interrogation technique known as waterboarding. Torture, they both said, unequivocally, after experiencing it first hand.

Here is something from Hitchen’s account, published in Vanity Fair in 2008.

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.

Read the rest of, “Believe Me, It’s Torture” by Hitchens.

The U.S. has a long and complex history with the practice, from hanging Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs during WWII to military brass explicitly banning waterboarding during the Vietnam War and punishing rogue soldiers who defied the ban. Sometime in 2007, allegation began to surface that the U.S. was using waterboarding on suspected terrorists during interrogations and, as was its style, the Bush administration produced a dubious legal document dating back to 2002 that determined the practice was not torture and authorized its use. Obama banned it, again, in 2009.

In our current age, at the intersection of unbridled curiosity, free time, and media, you can watch dozens of videos on YouTube of people, mostly men, trying it out for themselves –again, mostly journalists and frat guys. The consensus seems to be that, even in a voluntary setting, it’s pretty terrible. Hitchens and ManCow both last about five-seconds and are both visibly shaken after the experience.

Amazingly, in the race to the radical right fringe of the Republican Party, in the latest of what feels like a hundred GOP primary debates, two candidates advocated reinstating waterboarding to enthusiastic applause. We’ve heard GOP audiences cheer letting people without insurance die, whoop for more lethal injections, and boo a gay veteran serving in Iraq. Now, at least about half the room seems to advocate reinstating this immoral, illegal, and ineffective practice, what would be an abrupt about-face for America’s floundering efforts towards credibility in the world.

My best defense of Cain and Bachmann is that they both seem to have  no idea what they are talking about. Cain seems to be taking his cues directly from the applause, as though there is a meter in the back to tell him when he’s getting warm, and Bachmann has already proved there is no point that she won’t chase farther to the right. At least there is some dissent in the small but important voices of Ron Paul and Jon Hunstman.

Sudden death from cardiac arrest or asphyxiation during waterboarding is a threat and I am not advocating these experimental runs, but I do think it is telling that two men from such opposite sides of the political spectrum (Hitchens with his book God is Not Great and ManCow with his conservative talk-radio show) came so quickly and confidently to the same conclusion.

Waterboarding is torture. Torture, as Ron Paul reminds the debate audience, is against U.S. law, international law, it is immoral, and, as though this point might still be needed, it doesn’t work.

Many, maybe most, of us are powerfully compelled to act differently when others are around. This is especially apparent to anyone who works with adolescents. The same kid who will have a heart-to-heart with you in a one-on-one situation will not hesitate to throw you under the bus when buddies are present. Adults do it too, though we’re more practiced and more subtle.

This is something to consider seriously in the wake of the Penn State cover-up, not just as an abstract mental exercise, but as an affirmative committment to take right action should you ever be required to. Bystander psychology says we willingly live in denial when something we witness is too horrific to fit into our mental paradigm or when we are able to rationalize the probability that someone else will do what is right, thus exonerating ourselves.

The rest of us would like to believe that no matter how small or scared we were, if we saw a child being raped, we’d step in and stop it, or at the very least call 911 immediately. But social psychology research on “bystander” behavior suggests that many of us might actually turn away.

My hero in disproving this is this Penn State student who stands in front of a jeering, booing mob to try to argue for accountability in the face of enormous opposition.

If you aren’t up on the Penn State story, it mirrors much of the Catholic Church child-abuse scandal in terms of institutional complicity and the covering-up of monstrous crimes. Chris Hayes had an excellent debrief and discussion of the scandal on his show, Up with Chris Hayes, on Saturday. I highly recommend watching it here.

Obama said that such an incident should lead to “soul-searching” and I like to think he meant that seriously, not just rhetorically. It is an opportunity to consider what we value most and how we ourselves might behave, even if it means standing against what is revered and protected, even if it means personal risk.

Me on the issues: Gun Control? Pro. If I were to make a list of things I would like my government to do, Make it harder for us to kill each other would be pretty near the top. Pro-Gun people will scoff at this. There is the, “What if someone breaks into your house?” argument and the argument that guns prevent crime. Not in Mexico, they don’t. Guns are super sad, I don’t believe my Constitution gives me the right to one, and I feel compelled to live the way I want to live, not how I imagine society forcing me to live. I don’t want to shoot people or other things. I’d prefer that people and other things not be shot.

Naturally, I like to imagine that people who disagree with me don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and are probably a little crazy. But then the educated side of my brain says no, it’s important to listen to other points of view and weigh their merit, consider context, motivation, and objective, etc… Write an essay about it. Yawn.

This clip from “The Daily Show,” however, really makes the crazy just pop. A quote, to get into it: “Barack Obama has been good to the NRA, but if you want to take away [NRA CEO] Wayne LaPierre’s preconceived narrative, you’ll have to pry it from his cold dead hands.”

"The Daily Show" September 29th, 2011.

I went out to an end-of-internship lunch with my fellow ACLU interns yesterday, all law school students. It’s still a week before the internship officially ends, but work is dwindling down, especially for me. One of my supervisors has been on vacation for two-weeks and the other has permanently moved to Houston. Predictably, my desire to sit in the office for eight-hour stretches has been severely diminished. My project is basically complete and even though that third star on Angry Birds 3-16 is eluding me, it hardly seems like reason enough to stay parked behind my laptop for my last month of summer.

So, not knowing when my last day of work will be, that is when I’ll simply have no reason to go into the ACLU’s Austin office any longer, we made a Friday intern lunch of it and headed up S. Congress to Hop Daddy, a hipster burger joint, where we fell to talking about the economy. Specifically, if there would be one next week.

I’m not an economist and neither are any of the law students I had lunch with, but there are a few things I thought we as a country were already clear on. The basics, let’s say. The first of these is, you don’t cut during a recession. Or even more simply, you have to spend money to make money. If the goal is to reduce unemployment (and that’s a big if), then cutting federal spending and federal programs at a time when the states are already facing huge budget deficits is a mistake. It seemed like Obama knew this, once upon a time, but that was back in the long forgotten stimulus era. Those calling for more stimulus now are voices in the wilderness. The second basic was that fixing our economic disaster and putting people back to work was our top national priority. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said more than once that making Obama a one-term president is his single most important goal.

I asked my colleagues if they were cynical enough to think that the Republicans were trying to tank the economy in order to destroy Obama’s reelection possibilities.

“Hell to the yes,” says Tim.

My other fellow interns were a little more hesitant. If Boehner was simply trying to sabotage the president, they mused, he’s gone about it in an exceedingly impractical and embarrassing way. Fair point. Perhaps the Tea Party is truly a runaway tiger, this overzealous bunch of ideologues with no idea how to govern. But when you’re voting between your representatives being malicious or incompetent, everyone loses.

So, will Republicans pull the trigger? Or run out the clock?

“They already have,” says Tim. Tim tends to say most things authoritatively. “Moody’s is definitely downgrading our credit, it’s too late for that.” So, there’s one prediction. Lower credit rating means higher interest on loans for everyone, less money in the economy overall and more paid into our already astonishing amounts of personal debt. No one else was willing to speculate.

“I certainly hope not,” says Alyssa.

Last weekend I watched the film “Collapse” and bits and pieces of it have been playing in the back of my mind. This is not a feel-good film, but reality has been pretty uncomfortable these past few weeks.

I find myself wanting to go swimming, to go float in our pool and worry about whether I’m getting enough sun or too much, rather than worrying that forces far beyond my control are playing Russian roulette with the system. That’s not to say that I think the system is particularly great, but the looming upheaval is going to be very, very painful, as it is already for so many.

Two Sundays ago I went with a friend to the Boston/Chelsea May Day rally. May Day, a labor rights celebration, has brilliantly incorporated the migrant rights movement. Here’s a picture that Elisha took while we were waiting to march.

May Day Protest, Boston, 2011

Migrant rights have been a focus of mine in graduate school. The three-years I spent on the Texas/Mexico border helped shape my understanding of the issue. For the first time in my life, I met some of the many people whose lives are defined by our nation’s continued failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

This is just the first of what will no doubt be many posts on migrant rights. Today is the day that President Obama traveled to El Paso to finally speak about addressing immigration reform. And the commentary has already shifted to how this is an effort to secure Hispanic voters in 2012 and how real reform is a political impossibility.

I don’t mean this as blogging laziness, but I just wrote a paper in which I tried to analyze the role of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media on immigration reform. I didn’t do my own study, but I did do a relatively thorough literature review on public opinion regarding immigrants/immigration, especially undocumented migrants. Here are my conclusions, helpfully written in academic jargon:


The anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media and among politicians pulls the public conversation farther to the right-of-center and radicalizes the fringe against migrants, especially the undocumented. These more racist and dehumanizing viewpoints, perhaps fueled by an anti-assimilation bias or ethno-cultural fears, lead to other anti-immigrant claims being perpetuated and unquestioned in the media. These claims, especially that immigrants steal jobs, drive down the value of labor, and access social services they do not deserve, continue to be repeated in the media and have achieved, without investigation or supportive evidence, unquestioned legitimacy in public opinion. The belief that immigrants compete with certain segments of the population for jobs and thereby lower the value of labor is demonstrably true in economic terms. There are benefits to the economy, however, from this competition as less expensive goods and services are available as a result. This benefit is cultivated by the powerful business lobby through collusion with government to maintain the status-quo. The claim that immigrants access services they do not deserve is largely untrue. Documented immigrants are eligible to receive TANF and the children of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, were constitutionally determined to have the right to attend public schools. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, do pay taxes in many forms (through a false Social Security Number, through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and/or through sales tax) and the continued isolation of immigrants and stagnation of immigration reform discourages undocumented income tax payment.

The continuation of these claims has conflicting and contradictory impacts on public opinion. While older and less-educated individuals continue to hold anti-immigrant beliefs, the general trend in public opinion towards immigrants is positive, especially on the individual level. There is broad confusion among Americans regarding immigration and most Americans claim that the majority of immigrants are undocumented, which is untrue. As a result, most Americans identify undocumented immigration as a much larger problem for the country than documented immigration, though in numerical terms a larger percentage of new immigrants to the country are documented. Improving opinions of immigrants are credited to increasing exposure and increasing frequency of inter-group experiences between the Anglo-American majority and the growing Hispanic population. Most Americans identify positive stereotypes when asked about the characteristics of individual immigrants (such as identifying immigrants as hardworking and family-oriented). In times of economic hardship, however, as is the current case with the lingering economic recession from 2008 to the present, immigrants broadly (especially the undocumented) become scapegoats for financial difficulties. Although American’s hold increasingly positive views of immigrants and immigration, immigration reform remains stagnant which has the effect of continuing to isolate undocumented immigrants and reinforce out-group status for these individuals.

Both the media and politicians are to blame for perpetuating anti-immigrant claims. The amplified public platform of these two groups has been disproportionately influential in shaping public opinion. From this platform, there has been a consistent failure acknowledge the complexity of the relationship between business and government in regards to maintaining the status-quo in immigration policy. Likewise, the macro-economic benefits to powerful business interests that might otherwise unite low-skilled American workers with immigrants in the pursuit of higher wages go unrecognized or are framed so as to foster competition between these groups. By continuing to present immigrants to the public as undeserving and non-taxpayers, the mythology that undocumented immigrants are welfare recipients and that the children of undocumented immigrants are not eligible to attend public schools is likewise perpetuated. It is very difficult for the American public to access accurate and balanced information on the impact of immigration and rights of immigrants and therefore very difficult to unite the public or build a broad coalition to promote immigration reform.

After intentionally publicized photos of Saddam Hussein’s dead sons, after leaked video of Saddam’s hanging, after the horrific fall-out from the horrific abuses Abu Ghraib, it seems possible that the current administration is making a thoughtful and measured decision to quietly put the photos and video of Osama bin Laden’s assassination away. I feel really relieved about this. On a selfish level,  I just in no way want to see these… I make it a point to avoid horror films or any visual graphic violence since my imagination is perfectly capable of conjuring up terrible things all on its own. I also understand that other people don’t feel this way, but I can’t condone the release of the photos or footage to our decidedly bloodthirsty culture. In the age where we demand instant gratification and where a quick Google image search can summon previously unimaginable horrors, adding to that rot heap seems of little value and the consequences could be manifold.

Certainly many people, from the administration on down, have made the point that we do not want to further inflame bin Laden’s supporters and I think that is certainly a component of this decision. But it is not the decisive component. Refusing to release the photos is refusing to administrate to the lowest common denominator, refusing to bend to the fringe, and acknowledging instead in some very small and totally inadequate but still important way that this is not good. I am grateful to the President for this decision, for the minimal acknowledgment that, in the words of Dr. King and so many others, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence.”